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Hurricanes fire coach Muller, two assistants

by Kurt Dusterberg

RALEIGH, N.C -- Ron Francis made a major move one week after being named general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, firing coach Kirk Muller on Monday.

The change comes after the Hurricanes missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of Muller's three seasons. Assistant coaches John MacLean and Dave Lewis also were let go. The Hurricanes reassigned goaltending coach Greg Stefan to their pro scouting department. Assistant coach Rod Brind'Amour will remain on the coaching staff.

"Kirk's a really good person," Francis said. "We've had very good conversations. At the end of the day, I told him this was the direction we had to go."

Muller had never coached in the NHL and had 17 games of experience coaching the American Hockey League's Milwaukee Admirals when he took over the Hurricanes 25 games into the 2011-12 season. He inherited a team with an 8-13-4 record and it finished 12th in the Eastern Conference.

The Hurricanes upgraded the roster the following summer, acquiring forward Jordan Staal in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins and signing free-agent forward Alexander Semin. But even with the infusion of offensive talent, a 2-14-2 stretch late in the season ruined their playoff hopes. This season, a 2-8-0 skid broken up by the 2014 Sochi Olympics pushed the Hurricanes out of playoff contention.

"Kirk is a passionate guy," Francis said. "He loves coaching, he's going to learn from this experience, and I think he will get another job and do really well. I do."

Muller, 48, was 80-80-27 with Carolina. His previous coaching experience was five seasons as an assistant with the Montreal Canadiens. Throughout his time in Carolina, Muller patiently defended his players' effort. Francis said they did not give much negative feedback during exit interviews in April.

"There's always going to be situations where, as a player, if you don't like the coach, you still have to perform," the general manager said. "But I never got indications there was friction. That wasn't the big issue."

Francis was quick to point out Muller's dismissal is not expected to be the catalyst for turning around the fortunes of Hurricanes, who have missed the playoffs five straight seasons.

"This in no way shape or form takes the players off the hook," he said. "They have to be held accountable for their actions and how they played."

The Hurricanes never hit their stride under Muller. Despite having skilled offensive players Semin, Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal, Carolina spent most of Muller's tenure outside of the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference.

"Some nights we looked like a great team, and other nights we looked like we didn't know how to play the game at times," Francis said. "We have to consistently bring the same effort each and every night."

Francis said he will seek a coach who can meet specific criteria.

"The biggest thing I'm looking for is a guy who is a teacher," said Francis, who spent nine seasons in the Carolina front office before replacing retiring Jim Rutherford on April 28. "In today's game, you have to be able to communicate extremely well. You have to have strong leadership qualities and be able to manage the different personalities you're dealing with in the locker room."

Francis said he has received emails and phone calls about the job opening. He said he will consider coaches with NHL coaching experience as well as current assistant coaches.

"I'll start with a big list and narrow it down to those worth bringing in," he said. "Whether that number is two or seven, we will take the time to do it right."

Dismissing Muller one week after taking over as general manager suggests Francis will operate with a significant amount of autonomy. One week earlier, owner Peter Karmanos gave Muller a vote of confidence, suggesting he was not to blame for Carolina's woes.

"We have had some tough injuries," Karmanos said. "I guess I could blame the coach for that. I'm not going to. I think he's come a long way as a coach, but that's not my call. It doesn't matter what my perspective is."

Francis has been cautious in addressing calls for the Hurricanes to make changes among their core players, many of whom were untouchable during Rutherford's tenure.

"Coming into this job, it's a fresh start, and I have to look at everything, including the players that are in the locker room, absolutely," Francis said.

Whether the Hurricanes can get back to playoffs soon will depend on a variety of factors, including how much the organization adjusts the roster. On the day he made his first bold move, Francis wasn't making any promises.

"We've certainly got enough pieces to compete," he said. "Whether we keep those pieces or make changes to make us better, we will look at those things going forward."

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